ERIC Identifier: ED391108
Publication Date: 1995-01-30
Author: Farmer, Helen S.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Gender Differences in Adolescent Career Exploration. ERIC Digest.
Career exploration is a developmental stage identified by career development
theorists (Super, l990) and occurs typically during adolescence when boys and
girls try out various work roles in part time work, volunteer work, or in
school/community activities. Exploration tasks also include gaining an
increasing awareness and understanding of the self, of abilities, interests,
values, and needs. Jordaan (1963) indicated that exploration is the first of
three substages leading to realistic career choice. Exploratory behavior follows
the stage of tentative choice and is a time when a person wants to know as much
as possible about themselves and about the world of work in order to make the
best choice. This digest focuses on gender differences in the role of assessment
in the exploration process. Career assessment texts, such as those of Walsh and
Betz (1994) and Walsh and Osipow (1994), contain excellent chapters on gender
bias in career assessment. In particular, the Gottfredson chapter in Walsh and
Osipow provides extensive suggestions on how assessment may be used to stimulate
career exploration that is gender fair.
GENDER DIFFERENCES IN CAREER EXPLORATION
Girls have been
found typically to explore careers from a narrower set of career options than do
boys. Gottfredson (1981) demonstrated how this occurs based on occupational sex
role socialization. Girls and boys learn early which occupations are suitable
for them and which ones are not. There have been concerted efforts on the part
of educators, counselors, and the media to reduce occupational sex role
stereotypes (Klein, 1985). Career education programs and classes in high school
have attempted to reduce stereotyping in a variety of ways, including exposure
to a wider variety of work environments, role models in nontraditional
occupations, class discussion of issues related to occupational stereotyping and
assessment of occupational interests in a gender neutral or sex fair way (Klein,
1985). Increases in the participation of women in occupations nontraditional for
them have occurred since the Educational Equity Act, and Equal Employment
Legislation were passed in 1972. For example, women represented less than 1% of
engineers in 1970, but, in 1990, women represented 17% of employed engineers
(National Science Foundation, NSF, 1994). However, women are still seriously
underrepresented in the higher paid, higher prestige, and better paying
occupations, such as high level managers (i.e., CEO's), medical specialties
involving surgery, the physical sciences and technical occupations (NSF, 1994).
Occupational sex role socialization is still influencing the career exploration
process for girls and boys.
GENDER DIFFERENCES IN CAREER INTEREST ASSESSMENT
frequently used measures to aid in career exploration during adolescence are the
career interest inventories. There are basically two kinds of interest measures,
those based on empirical occupational scales such as the Strong Interest
Inventory (SII), and those based on homogeneous scales such as the Self Directed
Search (SDS) and the Kuder Occupational Interest Survey (KOIS). The former
reflect the interests of persons currently in an occupation, that is, the status
quo, and do not serve to stimulate exploratory behavior as well as the
homogeneous scaled inventories, which provide, for each interest, a measure of
how similar a person's interests are to a set of items that all assess that
interest (for example, artistic interest). The concept of "exploration validity" based on the extent to which an interest inventory stimulates the person to
explore career options that might otherwise not be explored is relevant to the
gender issues discussed in this digest. Interest inventories were criticized in
the 1970's because they typically used sexist language and items that were
biased toward men and yielded scores that rarely encouraged girls to explore
occupations nontraditional for their gender (Diamond, 1975).
The National Institute of Education (NIE) issued guidelines for reducing sex
bias in interest measurement (Diamond, 1975) and these guidelines were effective
in stimulating the publishers of the most frequently used career interest
measures to revise their instruments to make them more sex fair (i.e., Strong
Interest Inventory (SII), Harmon, Hansen, Borgen, & Hammer, 1994; Kuder
Occupational Interest Survey (KOIS), Kuder & Zytowski,1991; and The Self
Directed Search (SDS), Holland, Fritzsche, & Powell,1994). Sex bias was
defined in the NIE Guidelines (Diamond, 1975) as "any factor that might
influence a person to limit--or might cause others to limit--his or her
consideration of a career solely on the basis of gender." These guidelines
further suggested that administration of an interest inventory be accompanied by
an orientation dealing with possible influences from the environment, culture,
early socialization, traditional sex role expectations of society,
home-versus-career conflict, and the experiences typical of women and men as
members of various ethnic and social class groups on men's and women's scores.
Such orientation should encourage respondents to examine stereotypic "sets"
toward activities and occupations and should help respondents to see that there
is virtually no activity or occupation that is exclusively male or female
(Diamond, 1975, pp. xxvi-xxvii). Interest inventories that extend exploration of
occupations beyond those the client has already considered into fields not
typical for their gender would be viewed as responsive to the NIE Guidelines.
Which interest inventories in 1994 best meet this exploratory validity
During the period from the early 1970's to the mid 1980's most interest
measures met the criteria set down by the NIE Guidelines to eliminate sexist
language, to use the same form of the test for both sexes; to provide scores on
all occupational scales for both sexes with an explanation of which norms were
used to develop the scale, and to use items that equally reflected the
experiences/activities familiar to both sexes.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, career interest inventories such as the Self
Directed Search (Holland, et al. 1994) still obtain significantly higher scores
for women on Social scales (i.e., those related to people and service oriented
occupations) and significantly higher scores for men on Realistic scales (i.e.
those related to technical, skilled trades, engineering occupations). Hansen,
Collins, Swanson, and Fouad (1993) assessed sex differences in Holland's hexagon
ordering of career interests as measured by the SII and found that the distance
between interest types was significantly different for men and women when
samples were matched for occupation and level. These authors found that women's
scores on Investigative and Realistic scales were highly correlated and that the
structure of Holland's Hexagon was significantly different for men and women.
The SII (Harmon et al., 1994) Manual suggests the use of this inventory to
facilitate career exploration for the non-college bound youth, but not for the
college bound. Since evidence of gender differences continue to be found for
career interest measures it seems imperative to revive the NIE Guidelines
orienting women clients to the effects of their socialization on their scores.
In the latest version of the SDS the Assessment Booklet gives the following
advice to users after they have obtained their SDS scores: "Remember that
results are affected by many factors in your background. For example, because
society encourages men and women to aspire to different vocations women receive
more Social, Artistic and Conventional codes than men, while men receive more
Investigative, Realistic and Enterprising codes. Yet we know that almost all
jobs can be successfully performed by members of either sex. If your codes
differ from your Occupational Daydream codes keep these influences in mind. You
may decide to stick with your Daydreams" (Holland, 1994, p. 12). It would be
interesting to know what kind of SDS scores a person might obtain if they
received this message before taking the inventory, consistent with NIE
The NIE Guidelines for reducing sex bias in
interest measurement (Diamond, 1975) were followed to a large extent by both
interest measurement test developers and publishers in the decade following
their publication. The concept of "exploration validity," the extent to which an
interest inventory stimulates the person to explore career options that might
otherwise not be explored has been widely adopted. However, the continuing
evidence that gender differences exist in career interest measurement strongly
suggests that such assessment is accompanied with counseling. The NIE Guidelines
(Diamond, 1975) suggesting that exploration during adolescence should expand
beyond the social learning experiences of an individual, and beyond their
expressed interests, to include exposure to other career options that sex equity
legislation has opened up to women should be followed if career exploration is
to become more gender fair.
Diamond, E. (1975). Issues of sex bias and sex
fairness in career interest measurement, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of
Diamond, E. & Zytowski, D. (1991). Manual for the Kuder Occupational
Interest Survey, DD. Chicago, IL: Science Research Associates.
Gottfredson, L. (1981). Circumscription and compromise: A developmental
theory of occupational aspirations (Monograph) Journal of Counseling Psychology,
Hansen, J. I. , Collins, R., Swanson, J., & Fouad, N. (1993). Gender
differences in the structure of interests. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 42,
Harmon, L., Hansen, J.-I, Borgen, F., & Hammer, A. (1994). Strong
Interest Inventory: Applications and Technical Manual, Palo Alto, CA: Consulting
Holland, J., Fritzsche, B. & Powell, A. (1994) Technical Manual for the
Self-Directed Search, Lutz, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
Jordaan, J. (1963). Exploratory behavior: The formation of self and
occupational concepts. In D. Super, R. Starishevsky, N. Matlin, & J.
Jordaan, (pp 42-78) New York, NY: The College Board.
Klein, S. (1985). Handbook for achieving sex equity through education.
Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
National Science Foundation (1994). Request for Proposals. Washington, DC:
U.S. Government Printing Office.
Super (1990). A Life-span, life-space approach to career development. In D.
Brown, L. Brooks, & Associates. Career choice and development (2nd ed: pp
197-261). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Walsh, B. & Betz, N. (1994). Tests and Assessment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Walsh, B. & Osipow, S. (1994). Advances in vocational psychology: Volume
1: The assessment of interests. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.